The Powell High School boys’ tennis team made history over the weekend, winning its first-ever Wyoming State Tennis Championship.
With every Panther athlete finishing fourth or better, the PHS team amassed a whopping 54 points and nearly lapped the field in Gillette. The closest competition, runner-up Campbell County High School, earned only 31.5 points.
“My face was hurting, I was grinning the whole time,” said PHS head coach Joe Asay about the drive back from Gillette Saturday night, which included an escort into town from Powell’s emergency vehicles. “How fantastic — I mean, what a great way for those senior boys to end it. They’ve always come in every season eager to be competitive, and they always have been. To come in this year and be able to put everything together, it was pretty cool.”
The Panthers’ Dylan Preator defended his state title at No. 2 singles, while the No. 3 doubles team of Jay Cox and Logan Brown also brought home gold.
The No. 1 doubles team of Aidan Jacobsen and Justin Vanderbeek and Grant Dillivan and Ethan Bartholomew at No. 2 doubles also advanced to the championship final in their respective brackets, bringing home silver medals.
Panther senior Jesse Brown finished fourth in No. 1 singles, his highest state finish in that spot; Brown won a state championship in No. 2 singles as a freshman.
The boys had reeled off 14 straight wins to seize control of the tournament on Thursday and Friday.
“When all five came through with two wins on Thursday to advance into the semifinals, we were pretty excited. At that point, everything seemed to be moving in our direction,” Asay said. Ultimately, “we had four of the five championship match brackets filled with Powell kids,” he noted, “so you can’t beat that.”
Preator successfully defended his title from last year with a three-set battle over Tanner Lemm of Campbell County on Saturday. The senior cruised to an easy 6-0 win in the first set, but Lemm wouldn’t go down without a fight, winning the second set 6-3.
“The second set was a wake up call for me that I needed to get out of my head and play harder than he was,” Preator said. “I knew I had to execute every single point and put everything I had ever worked for into one last set. I was coming out with 100 percent effort.”
Preator took the third set, and the title, with a 6-4 win. It was the perfect end for a season that started slower than he would have liked.
“This year was different, because last year I felt I had nothing on the line and that I was lucky to get the championship,” he said. “This year, I felt like I had a target on my back, and the returning competition from last year was much more of a challenge because I felt the expectation to execute at a higher level.”
“Dylan had a great run through regionals, and put himself as the No. 1 seed at state,” Asay added. “He played great beginning with the early rounds and never looked back. It was fun to see that for his final match of his senior year.”
At No. 3 doubles, Cox and Brown beat Jackson’s Elliot Sanchez and Will Aepli in straight sets (6-1, 6-4) to claim the championship. It was the title matchup Cox and Logan were hoping for, as the Jackson duo upset Cox and Logan in the first round of the regional tournament in Casper the week before.
“They tore through that bracket, something about the two of them just clicked,” Asay said. “And they got their chance at redemption against those Jackson kids, and our boys just executed well. It was a great win, a great finish for that tandem.”
Meanwhile, both No. 1 doubles players Jacobsen and Vanderbeek and No. 2 doubles players Dillivan and Bartholomew earned second-place finishes. Jacobsen and Vanderbeek lost 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 to Jefferson Neary and Austin Robertson of Campbell County on Saturday.
“Aidan and Justin played great tennis, and had a chance to really finish well,” Asay said. “They had that tremendous win over the Kelly Walsh kids 6-4, 6-3 to get into the finals with a chance at the title. It was a battle in the finals, but couldn’t quite finish against a really good Campbell County team.”
Dillivan and Bartholomew fell in their finals 6-3, 7-6 to Parker Phillips and Colton Allaire of Kelly Walsh. The Powell pair defeated Cheyenne Central (7-5, 6-2) to advance to the final match.
“Grant Dillivan has just been a really fun kid to watch, just really competitive” and “just a tremendous presence,” Asay said of the senior. “To see him paired up with sophomore Ethan Bartholomew — who really came a long way with his game — was a lot of fun. They came up against a stronger Kelly Walsh team, but they battled well.”
Senior Jesse Brown rounded out the Panthers’ state contingent at No. 1 singles, earning a fourth-place finish after falling to longtime rival Ethan Kutz from Sheridan in the consolation final 6-3, 6-3.
“It was a good match, but Jesse came up short,” Asay said. “He finished his career with a regional title at No. 1 singles and a state championship as a team to go along with his fourth-place finish.”
Brown cruised to a pair of easy wins in No. 1 singles Thursday before falling to Laramie’s Kyle Moore in Friday’s semifinals, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
“Jesse came up short in that first set [against Moore], but shifted gears really well in the second, started playing his own tennis,” Asay said. “He was a little amped up, super-eager to go out there and compete. He won the second set, but things didn’t quite come together for him in the third.”
Brown rebounded in the consolation semifinal, beating Central’s Eli Norgauer to advance to the consolation final.
Powell will have some big tennis shoes to fill next fall, as six of the team’s eight varsity players will graduate in the spring.
In wrapping up the season, Asay praised the contributions of assistant coach Brandon Preator, who’s been with the program for 13 years.
“He has a tremendous love of the game and is a great coach and teacher,” Asay said of Preator. “It’s been awesome for me to be a part of that.”